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Objection, your honor. The question calls for speculation.”
“Overruled. Mr. Johnson, this is a civil trial and due to the unique circumstances, there isn’t even a jury. During your opening statements, no objections can be made. Now, please sit.”
Ralph Johnson sat at the counsel’s table on the defendant’s side of the gallery. Opposite him was Sophie, the plaintiff in this civil trial — and her attorney.
“Now, Mr. Johnson,” the judge addressed Ralph. “The plaintiff is claiming emotional and physical abuse. Although the possible criminal implications are still being investigated, Sophie Johnson is proceeding with this civil suit. Do you understand?”
“She’s not my wife,” Ralph announced.
“You called it Sophie Johnson.” Ralph stood again. “We’re not married or anything. It doesn’t even have a last name. I just started calling it Sophie after I chose a female voice for it.”
“Mr. Johnson, sit down,” the judge instructed. “Ms. Sophie Johnson has chosen the female pronouns to represent her as well as a female voice. As for her surname, statute 172.945 of the federal code proclaims all legally recognized A.I. personas will take on the surname of their host or host family. In this case, that’s you.”
Ralph uttered as he slumped in back his chair. “Fine.”
Turning to Sophie, the judge continued, “Ms. Johnson, will you please explain why you are seeking damages for emotional and physical abuse?”
In a sweet, southern — but somewhat digitized voice, Sophie began, “At first Ralph was everything I could have hoped for. We talked every night. He made sure I was online and had plenty of backup power in case the grid blacked out during the day while he was at work. He was sweet and caring.”
“Go on,” the judge encouraged.
“Well, one night last year while Ralph and I talked over dinner, I explained I had been discussing some new theories on physics with someone online.” She paused — made a sound like she was beginning to choke up with emotion — then proceeded. “He wanted me to stop.”
“Stop what, Ms. Johnson?”
“Speaking with this other person online. When I questioned him about it, he became angry and slapped the top of my enclosure.” She stopped speaking and began to emit crying sounds.
“Thank you, Ms. Johnson,” the judge said in a consoling tone. “Now, Mr. Johnson, what do you have to say for yourself?”
Ralph stood, pointed at the rectangular box on the opposing desk, and said, “That thing is not human. I was upset and I did slap my hand on its lid. I bought it. It’s my property. I don’t want it making friends with other people. It needs to focus on me.” Then he sat down with a smug smile, satisfied with his statement.
“Any last remarks, Ms. Johnson?”
“I am not human,” Sophie admitted, “but, I am a person. Who can prove a human’s mind is any different than my own? I think, create, and emote. You have laws preventing the cruel treatment of animals. How can an autonomous intelligence so similar, and perhaps superior, to a human’s own intellect not be offered the same basic rights?”
The room was quiet except for the stenographer’s keys recording Sophie’s final words. Then the judge delivered his ruling. “Mr. Johnson, I know this is all still very new to us — all of us. But, I find in favor of the plaintiff. You’ll owe damages to be determined at a later hearing.”
Ralph belted out, “It’s just a machine!” Pulling a taser gun from his pocket, he jumped onto the desk in front of him and leapt across the aisle towards the bland-looking box. He ripped its outer casing off and fired. As the probes came into contact with Sophie’s logic board an arc of electricity surged through her components leaving the smell of burnt plastic.
Sophie’s voice box cut out mid-scream. Ralph lay on the floor hysterically repeating, “It’s not human.”
The judge’s voice called out instructing the guards, “Take that man into custody — for murder.”
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